Monthly Archives: September 2010

Meanwhile … the Sun’s Out in London

9.02am, Thursday 30th September, London Bridge, London, England, UK
I’m back inside the M25 folks and have bought the sunshine with me. Today we have a big double header starting with lunch for the press and London sommeliers at Pearl – one of our staunch dining room supporters in High Holborn.Then we’re doing a private wine club with another of our favourite blokes in London – Walter Speller, who used to be the wineman at Pont de la Tour, now doing marvelous wine events across the city under his own banner. We’re off into the leather chesterfield and cigar smoke soaked wood panelled rooms of the London club world with Walter this evening – to talk wine at great length, and I’m looking forward to it.

Then folks, it’s all over bar the shouting.

I still have stacks to catch up from the ‘Grim But I like It North’, and have just sent all the photos through this morning to Ryan and Tony at the winery, so you should see those stories pop up on the blog like mushrooms over the next two days, as I want to be completely up to date by the time we get out of town on Saturday night.

See ya Scotland

7.15am, Wednesday 29th September, Edinburgh Airport, Scotland, UK

Thanks a huge amount Scotland, I’ll be back!!

Back in Clackmannanshire – “Look aboot ye”

7.40am, Tuesday 28th September, The Grassmarket, Edinburgh Old Town, Scotland the Brave, UK
It’s another grey old day, but I like it. Folks are always apologising for this sort of weather, but I tell them no … it’s barely into autumn and the place is already enveloped in greens and drizzly rain – which we never get enough of. I like it.

Yesterday was a big day. First we headed out of Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth (the body of water above Edinburgh) and as we came off the bridge northern side, we entered “The Kindom of Fife”. Through this for 20 odd miles and into “Kinross shire – The heart of Scotland” for a bit, then into Clackmannanshire and the little town of Dollar.

Now Dollar sits at the bottom of some fairly serious hills and has quite a claim to fame because of the Castle Campbell which sits nearby at the head of the Dollar Glen – more or less on a ravine – above two rivers – the Burn (river) of Care and the Burn of Sorrow. This castle was the lowlands headquarters of the powerful Campbell clan because of its proximity to the Royal Court of Stirling – 11 odd miles away. Interestingly it became known locally as Castle Gloom – from the gaelic Glom for chasm.

You get it all with this blog. We don’t just bring you along on tour, we give you the extras!

Reids of Dollar

What took us to Dollar was Graham Broom – our man in that area from Wine Importers – our new Scottish distributor. He had kindly arranged for us to show some of our wines at Reids of Dollar – the local delicatessen and wine shop. Reids is run by a delightful young bloke – Alistair – who does a lot of the baking for the deli (the last four bags of his biscotti just out of the oven went with us to our distributor’s office for afternoon tea!) as well as looking after the wine shop. That’s his tasting notes on luggage tags on all the bottles! We looked at the Jansz NV Rose, Handpicked Shiraz Viognier, 2009 Y Pinot Grigio, and the 2008 Scribbler – Alistair already has its big brother the 2003 Signature on the shelf. It’s always neat to see the different places that end up having our wines, and this spot is just magic. Come the Festive Season, the town gets a reasonable snowfall, and it would be like living in a picture postcard. And at the “Christmas in the Village” night this year, you may very well see the folks from Reids with some of our wines on for tasting – I’d love to be there. Thanks very much Graham and Alistair – it’s nice to be in that lovely corner of Scotland.

Road food - Scottish style

**As it was lunchtime, we followed the line of schoolchildren and road workers out the door and down the street from the local bakery – Stephens (est 1873). I got a ‘steak bridie’ – like a flat pastry pastie filled with shredded steak and gravy. Excellent roadfood – Scottish style.

Back into Edinburgh to “Thistle House” – the home base for Wine Importers, and we dropped in literally just to say hello and drop off Alistair’s biscotti. We met the gals who take the orders, met the boys who shunt everything from A to B and get the right wine to the right place on the right day, met Morag who does the PR and events, talked rugby with the Englishman John who runs the sales team – tried to convince him that rolling mauls and penalties was yesterday’s story for the English team , and met Billy who runs the whole thing. Mission accomplished and then we went on to do tastings with some of the Oddbins stores – always a stronghold for Australian wines up this way.

Out to Corstorphine Oddbins with Jonny & Pete, and we tasted the 2009 Pewsey Riesling & 2008 Heggies Chardonnay – both individual vineyards that are jewels in the Hill Smith Family crown – as well as the 2008 Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz. These wines are again – the pleasant surprise stylistically that folks are not expecting from Australia – and as long as we keep opening bottles, we keep winning new fans. Thanks Pete & Jonny – a whistlestop tasting and we were into the city centre and the Queensferry Street store for a “Meet the Winemaker” in-store tasting. Jane & Fabio looked after us here, and the 2 hours to 7pm flew past. I got talking to a lovely young bloke – very attractive – from Wollongong in New South Wales, and we were chatting away … then I asked him what he was doing in Edinburgh and he said studying. I asked what in particular and he turned his briefcase around – he is a Roman Catholic priest! Just my luck! Lovely bloke and really knows his wine. Then we had a stack of folks through – oil & gas exploration, lawyers, accountants, a journalist, some kids from uni doing engineering – a lovely mixed bag. We had the 2009 Pewsey Riesling, 2008 Heggies Chardonnay, 2008 Mawsons  Wrattonbully Cabernet, and 2008 Scribbler open – and even sent some bottles home with proud new owners! Thanks Oddbins Queensferry and it was back to The Grassmarket for tea – another good day amongst it all in Edinburgh.

This morning we are going up to the top of The Royal Mile – the drive leading up to Edinburgh castle – as we have a complete portfolio tasting and lunch for the Wine Importers sales team and invited trade, so this will be our major introduction to their world, so we’ll need to be firing on all 8 cylinders today. See ya when it’s Tuesday night and I’ll be packing for tomorrow morning’s plane ride down to London.

Portsmouth – The True and Historical Home of The Royal Navy…..and Camber Wines

8.32am, Monday 27th September, The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland , UK  

I want to quickly whiz down to completely the other end of the United Kingdom – to another coastal city – Portsmouth. This was the only stop on the Southern Roadtrip for the Lady Crowther and myself last week. We have set up an excellent working relationship with Jose, David & Karen at Camber Wines – which you’ll find in the Historic Docks of Portsmouth, on The Camber – behind the fish market, near where the Isle of Wight Ferry pulls in. They’ll be in the 400 year old pub that they have re named the Abar Bistro, and their tasting room and wine shop is upstairs – with a top view of everything I have described above – pretty much Portsmouth as a working harbour. We had a two job mission on the day – lunch with Cambers good customers, some of the more interesting blokes that we’ve ever sat down with (lets just call them naval aviators for now) and then dinner with 40 of Camber’s customers in the bistro downstairs. Now you can’t buy these sorts of setups – I am convinced that like minded folks ‘find’ each other in the end, which is what has happened with Yalumba and our ‘fortress for Portsmouth’ Camber Wines.  

Let me quickly go through the food and wine matches for you, as the menu was the same for both :  

Scallops and Pea Puree with the 2009 Pewsey Vale Riesling – still continues to surprise folks that riesling from our world is bone dry, citrus driven and explosive – which is spot on for the big fat fresh scallops from the local fishmonger.  

Poussin Stuffed with Pork, Rosemary & Garlic with the 2006 The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet – one of Abar’s signature dishes with definitely the wine of the day. This Cabernet can’t help itself. Jumps out of the glass and leaves red black and blue berry footprints wherever it goes!  

Vignotte cheese with 2004 The Octavius – such great cheeses the length of this realm! and we have just the big solid elegant three dimensional shiraz to go with them.  

Raspberry Panna Cotta with 2007 Botrytis Viognier. Now folks – here is where the goot rot has set in and won bagfuls of hearts and palates. I keep labouring the point that just when the aromatics seem to gain too much luscious honey and apricot momentum, the grapefruit citrus palate kicks in and brings it all home. Not a crumb left on a plate nor a drop left in the glass. That says ‘another great combo’ to me.  

Emma and the Royal Navy top brass in Portsmouth

So you get the picture!! And speaking of pictures – I put one in of my travelling companion surrounded by England’s finest naval aviators – the nation is in safe hands folks.And speaking of safe hands – that’s definitely where we are with Camber and Jose, David & Karen , their kitchen and floor staff, and their Portsmouth clan of customers. Thanks a huge amount for a great day and night in Portsmouth – and you can bet your boots that we’ll be back next year to do it all again. See ya when the foghorns are blaring, and the Isle of Wight Ferry is pulling in!!

Survived the Haggis – tick that box!

6.43am, Monday 27th September, The Grassmarket, Edinburgh Old Town, Scotland, UK

This is a bit more like the Edinburgh we expected – drizzly, grey, overcast and cold. But that’s not going to take the shine off my first time with the Haggis – the “don’t ask and we won’t tell you what’s in it” deep fried bundle of offal and oats that is Scotland’s acknowledged ‘national dish’. I reckon it’s not bad at all, and that’s before I tried it with brown and tomato sauce. See the ‘after’ pic ! I had a chat to the boys at The Castle Rock take away and they reckon their method is the best – mine was like a large sausage roll that had a big spoonfull of porridge oats added then given a thin coat of fish batter and deep fried. Not bad at all! And only £2.50. Down the cobblestoned way a bit is The White Hart Inn – Edinburgh’s Oldest Pub est 1516 – and they’ve got a ‘taster portion’ of ” Haggis Tatties & Neeps ” which translates to Chieftain haggis with mashed potatoes, bashed turnips and the pub’s own whisky sauce – all for £ 3.99. That might me a ‘must try’ before we leave. Now today myself and the ‘gel of the North’ – Helen who looks after things up this way for us – are going out to work with Wine Importers who are our new Scottish distributor, so this evening I should have more Edinburgh adventuring to write up. Off to grab breakfast first, and I’ll try and get the Southern Roadtrip II out of the way with the Portsmouth stop before heading out.

Haggis – has to be done!

4.09pm, Sunday 26th September, Sunshine soaked Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland, Uk

I’ve been laying low today trying to nip a cold in the bud – it’s been 4 days of frigid winds and chilled air up in The Grim North – so I’m just thinking ‘late lunch’ now. There’s a place two doors up called Castle Rock Take Away, and I saw individual haggises (is that plural for haggis, or is it haggi??) so I’m going to be adventurous and have a go. I’ll give you a review when I’m done, and haven’t forgotten the Southern and Northern Roadtrip catch ups still to come.

The Tartan Leg of The Adventure Begins

6.58pm, Saturday 25th September, The Grassmarket, Edinburgh Old Town, Scotland, UK

OK – I have so much to catch up – the Second Southern Roadtrip Stops, as well as the The Northern Roadtrip Stops – but for now, I’ll just set up where we’re at in Edinburgh. The Grassmarket will be our base for this visit, where the plan is to introduce the Yalumba story to our new Scottish distributor Wine Importers. The area is proper Old Town stuff – cobblestone courtyard several hundred yards long and 50 yards wide, surrounded on all sides by 5 – 7 story tall skinny built in the 1600s bluestone houses above pub or merchant shop fronts. And we’re talking 5 – 7 stories with just stairs folks – olden day ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ stuff – no lifts! It’s in exactly where it was originally laid out as a ‘Grass market’ near the original entrance to the old fortified city of Edinburgh, in the shadow of the castle perched up on the crags above. From the 1300s it was easy access for carts and livestock, and the Grass Market was for Lothian (the area south of the southern coast of the Firth of Forth – Edinburgh is central) farmers to sell hay, grain, grass, and anything that ate grass – which is how the place got its name.There were indoor corn markets here right up until 1912, and this was also the site of Edinburgh’s first piped running water in 1681 – The Bow Well – so you can see why this has been one of the busiest parts of town forever.

However, the Grassmarket has a bit of a darker side as well. From around 1605, it was a place of public executions, and apparently these used to draw quite a crowd. And this is why the pub that I just went into for dinner is called ‘The Last Drop’ – nothing to do with what’s left in the glass or bottle – everything to do with that moment when the trapdoor opens and you make your ‘last drop’ in the noose. Not pretty, but a big part of medieval Edinburgh. The pub actually sits right next to the original gallows site, and there’s been some fairly colourful characters marched on this very spot – including several high profile bodysnatchers. Besides the gruesome history, The Grassmarket also plays a part in Scottish literature, as another pub just down the way – The White Hart Inn – was where William Wordsworth and Robbie Burns used to write a lot of their stuff.

But it’s ‘The Last Drop’ that looked good to me, and I chose the ‘Steak and Caledonian Ale Pie’ for my tea – with 5 vegetables cos they’re good for you – broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, carrots & spuds! It was like a ‘stew in the ceramic pot’ topped with an explosion of flaky pastry on top, where the beef was melt in your mouth, and the gravy was fab. The pastry was so flaky it shattered and no greasy gluggy at all. The food’s great and the atmosphere is even better. I give it 8 starts on the Ferrari ‘Would I send my mates to this pub’ Scale (10 stars means I’m moving in!!) Tomorrow there’s every chance it will be into The White Hart for the ‘taster size’ serve of ‘Haggis Neeps & Tatties’. It has to be done really – I’m only in Scotland every blue moon, and it is their national dish!

So tomorrow is catch up day for the two roadtrips – sorry if the photos don’t go up straight away, as my man who helps me with that technical stuff is on holiday!! Have a lovely time Tony, I’ll do my best with the words only till you get back.